One of the things that I love about the elementary school that my son attends is the diversity. As we checked out his kindergarten class photo this year, I was surprised – and also relieved – to see that one out of every four children in his class is a student of color. His school isn’t just racially diverse; every day he’s in the classroom with kids whose families speak other languages besides English and who come from all socio-economic backgrounds.
As a parent, this means a lot to me. Throughout all my years in school, including my years as a college undergraduate, I never had a teacher of color. Until recently, I never gave it a second thought, nor have I considered its implications. I was often the only student of color (or one of two or three) in predominantly white classrooms. We did have at least one thing in common: We were all comfortably middle-class. Fortunately, I often had teachers and professors who welcomed diversity and who did their best to be inclusive of all students, regardless of race, religion, ethnicity or how much their parents made for a living.
I thought of the ethnic and socio-economic make-up of my son’s class while watching CNN’s special report, “Black or White: Kids on Race.” In the first report, a mom watches a video of her 5-year-old daughter who is asked to look at five cartoons of girls. They all look the same except the color of their skin.
When asked which girl was the smart child, the 5-year-old points to the light-skinned girl. The good child, she said, is also the white girl because “I think she looks like me.” From the girl’s perspective, the black child is the one who is mean and ugly because “she’s a lot darker.”
“Shocking to you?” CNN reporter Soledad O’Brien asked the child’s mom, who started to cry as she watched the video.
“I just think it’s because she’s not exposed,” said the mom, who lives in Georgia.
I felt so sad for this mom, but I bet she’s also grateful for such an eye-opening experience. According to CNN, white parents do not talk to their kids about race as much as black parents. The CNN report also quoted Po Bronson, author of NurtureShock, who noted that white parents “want to give their kids this sort of post-racial future when they’re very young and they’re under the wrong conclusion that their kids are colorblind. … It’s in the absence of messages of tolerance that they will naturally … develop these skin preferences.”
As a parent, I think we need to do more than just talk about race. I think our children need to be exposed to diversity as much as possible. But how do we do that? If I have to be honest with myself, our friends are just like us — families who are middle class and who often share the same values, experiences and even political preferences. That’s why I value the ethnic and socio-economic diversity of my son’s school — it’s a place to learn about life and the different people with whom we must coexist.
I know this is a hard topic to talk about, but what are your thoughts on all this? Does your family talk about race? How important is diversity when choosing a school or extracurricular program for your child?